Cool Clips: The Colts 'Center Read' 6-man blitz vs. the Browns
Mug pressures & aligning six or more at the line of scrimmage are popular ways to attack offenses on passing downs. I take a look at a blitz by the Colts that illustrates how they stress protections.
The Colts Defensive Coordinator, Gus Bradley, is not known for exotic pressures. Most pundits and those who follow the NFL know him because of how ‘static’ his defenses can be. In short, he leans towards a simplistic style that allows his players to play fast and lessens mental errors. Here’s his philosophy in his own words from over a decade ago when he was with the Jaguars. Not much has changed in over a decade.
“You know what, I just think the big thing with our players is I want to really come across as our plan is going to be really simple. Simple means that, like Michelangelo, he used three primary colors, and look at what he did. Beethoven used seven notes, and look at what he did.”
Schematically, Indianapolis under Bradley is a four-down defense that plays primarily single-high coverage. Through Week 9, the Colts are tops in Cover 3 usage (56.2%), something Bradley led the league in when he was the DC for the Raiders in ’21 and was third in its usage last year. The defense rarely plays man-free or Cover 1 (3rd lowest usage), yet still is in the top 5 in the NFL in single-high coverages (MOFC). To add to the static storyline, the Colts are also at the bottom of middle-of-the-field disguise at only 14% (PFF).
Currently, the Colts have the third lowest Blitz Rate (BR) in the NFL behind the Jets and 49ers (both have elite D-lines). Indy’s blitz rate (PBR) drops to the second lowest when playing the pass. Again, behind the Jets at 19.2%. So far this year, the unit hasn’t recorded one simulated pressure (PFF). When the Colts do pressure, they like to bring the Ni, primarily Kenny Moore II (#23), where they sit second in that position usage behind the Bears.
The Bradley system is the closest thing to a ‘sit-and-get’ mentality in the NFL. The Colts keep the scheme simple, so the players are not bogged down mentally. Fast players lead to more players. In 2023, the Colts’ defense has been playing well, coming in 12th in DVOA (FTN) and a pedestrian .500-ish record.
So, why am I writing about a seemingly ‘boring’ and average defense? Because the Colts do something not many NFL teams do, they like to send six when they blitz. The NFL is a five-man pressure-dominant league, and if you don’t blitz five at volume, then you are in the cluster that runs simulated pressures. Like his counterpart in Minnesota (Brian Flores), Bradley sends six.
When the Colts blitz against the pass, 44.4% of the time, they will send six defenders. That number is only surprised by the Vikings, who run six-man blitzes on 47% of their calls. Facing a backup QB against Cleveland (PJ Walker), Bradley decided to juice up the pressures even more. Against the Browns, the Colts’ PBR rose to ~25%, but their six-man blitz usage jumped to ~81% of their blitzes (9 of 11)! Gus Bradley woke up and chose violence.
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